By Hila Olyan, Programme Manager
“Where do you live?” I ask Vincent.
“Near the shops,” he tells me.
“That’s a long way,” I respond, “do you walk?”
“No,” says Vincent, but he smiles.
“Then how do you get here?” I pry.
Vincent is six years old and a Standard (grade) one student at Olepolos Primary School in Kajiado county, Kenya. He treks several kilometres to school every day. Despite what seemed to me to be a very long, rutted drive to the school, Olepolos is actually considered one of the more cosmopolitan schools to participate in the Reading Kenya Project. Children there typically walk about five kilometers to attend classes but, during what has been a very wet and rainy May, even the ‘short’ distances are no easy feat.
“Why do you like school?” I ask him. Soila, one of our project officers, is helping me translate. (The introduction alone has exhausted my knowledge of Kiswahili and Vincent can answer more clearly in Maa, the local language in this region). It turns out he wants to learn Kiswahili and math. His mother, who owns a small kiosk and his father, a local butcher, have told him those are important skills. Vincent agrees... except that he wants to be a teacher one day.
Next up is Deborah. A classmate of Vincent’s, she is nine years old. Like many students in Kajiado county, her walk to school is longer so she needed a few more years before making the trip herself.
Deborah and I sit down under a tree. She’s much shyer than Vincent, so I have to strain to hear her excited whispers. She tells me that she loves English class and that she has read two books at the new library.
Mariamu Goes Shopping is her favorite. She has also read one about Aisha and Mambo. I’m not sure who they are but I can tell from her expression that she obviously liked that book too. I’m pleased to see that even the Standard one students are making use of the library and the new books provided through the Reading Kenya.
“No, the one with the boy and the monkey!” Now Vincent is interrupting us to make sure I know which book is his favorite.
Their teacher brought a box of books from the library the previous week and each student picked out a few to read. Book boxes are one of the strategies we often use with the early grades. It provides the teacher with the opportunity to strategically select appropriate books for her class and it makes it easier to keep an eye on all of the students.
When the project started there wasn’t a single story book to be found at Olepolos Primary School. Over the past year, CODE and its local partner, the National Book Development Council of Kenya, have provided more than 2,000 new books to the school (and to 24 other schools in Kajiado county as well). We’ve also trained one of their teachers as well as the head teacher on the basics of library management. In return, the parents have turned an empty class room into a small library. They’ve built shelves, while we are providing tables and chairs and a few mats where children can sit and read.
The library is still small, but it’s a start. The kids are embracing it, the teachers are using it, and the parents are supporting it. It’s the most you can ask for as a programme officer.
“Next time,” I say to Vincent and Deborah, “we’re going to the library and you two are going to read to me.”
They think I’m joking. I’m not. I can’t wait to get back there to see just how many books they’ve read.
CODE Programme Manager Hila Olyan is currently in Kajiado, Kenya, to observe teacher training and visit program school as part of Reading Kenya. This project is made possible thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.